Quentin Massys, The Moneylender and his Wife (1514) Oil on panel, 71 x 68 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

Capitalism in Western Thought

Instructor Raphaële Chappe
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
275 Madison Avenue, Suite 2114
New York, NY 10016

While capital, markets and commercial trade have existed for much of human history, the idea of capitalism as an economic model is of relatively recent vintage. It was only with the advent of the Industrial Revolution that capitalism emerges as a complex tapestry linking various ideas and institutions: production for exchange on a market, private ownership of the means of production, the global distribution of goods, the profit motive, wage labor, and competition, to name just a few. With the foundations of classical free market economic theory laid by Smith, Ricardo, and later Marx (who analyzed the capitalist mode of production more systemically in Das Kapital), the study of capitalism as a stand-alone object of sustained enquiry has often been left to economists, political economists or historians. Yet many prominent intellectuals have analyzed not only the economic dimensions, but also the political, moral, cultural and social implications of capitalism.

This course will delve into this body of literature by considering the idea of capitalism and the intellectual debates that have accompanied its historical development in the West. Reading from Smith, Rousseau, De Tocqueville, Hegel, Marx, Weber, Keynes, Polanyi, Schumpeter and others, we will survey the views of its leading proponents and critics. Our guiding themes will be the question of poverty and wealth (does the market make people poorer or richer?), distribution (does it increase inequality?), as well as the cultural, moral and political effects of capitalism.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 08 — March 29, 2017
4 weeks


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